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What are Mulling Spices?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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One popular winter tradition is the creation of hot mulled beverages to enjoy on cold nights. Mulling is a centuries-old practice in which various spices and fruit essences are infused into heated juices, wines, ciders or brandies. The ingredients used in this infusion are known as mulling spices. The recipes for using these spices may vary somewhat, but in general they include allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and various dried fruit peels.

There are a number of different methods in which mulling spices are infused into the chosen beverage. Some are gathered together into a cheesecloth bag and placed directly into the simmering wine, cider or fruit juice. The essences of the spices create a complex undertone of spicy and citrus flavors which complement the basic fruit elements of the mulled beverage. Once the cheesecloth bag has been removed, the mulled beverage can be served to guests.

Another method for infusing mulling spices is to grind or break the various ingredients into manageable powder form and add them directly to the simmering beverage. Some may dissolve readily in the heated wine or fruit juice, while others may need to be skimmed out before serving. Commercial producers of mulling spices often market finely ground products designed to dissolve completely in any heated beverage. Mulled apple cider is commonly sold with the mulling spices already fully dissolved, which means the cider only needs to be heated before serving.

The practice of using spices in wine or brandy is also closely associated with the Christmas holiday season. The English Christmas carol Here We Go A' Wassailing is actually a reference to wassail, a traditional holiday beverage featuring mulling spices. The popular phrase "mulling it over," meaning to consider an idea carefully, is most likely derived from the slow and deliberate process of creating mulled beverages.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon354968 — On Nov 12, 2013

Now take a handful of these mulling spices and grind them up in a blender. Add a teaspoon of this spice to your favorite Christmas cookie recipe and you will experience a new flavor in your cookie.

By bear78 — On Jan 25, 2013

@anamur-- You can try apple, pear, cranberry or grape juice. Red grape juice or cranberry juice will make it look like red wine. You can also do it with orange juice. All mulled wine spices can be used with these. My favorites are cinnamon and cloves which by the way go really well with orange juice.

I have never heard of anyone trying this, but I wonder if a mulling drink could be made with the non-alcoholic sparkling wine sold at stores? If it's possible, I'd imagine it'd be quite good.

By discographer — On Jan 25, 2013

@anon138602 -- That's an interesting idea. If I had that bar of soap however, I'm afraid I might eat it!

Mulled red wine is my favorite drink in winter. But I'm a bit lazy to prepare it from scratch so I buy mulled syrup and just add it to red wine. It's very easy and tastes great.

Of course, it can't be as good as the proper mulled wine which simmers for hours with the herbs and spices. But I just don't have that kind of time on my hands. Plus, I'm always afraid that I'm going to boil the alcohol right out of the wine.

By serenesurface — On Jan 25, 2013

Aside from cider, what are some other non-alcoholic drinks mulled with spices?

Is eggnog considered a mulled drink?

By anon312250 — On Jan 06, 2013

I've been playing with mulled wine recipes and so far love cinnamon bark, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, and a small bay leaf. The latter is surprisingly brilliant in red wine.

I also add a small orange's juice, the rind, and a bit of honey/organic brown or white sugar. I just simmer gently for a time, then strain through a coffee filter placed in a strainer. Delicious! And a great way to get rid of not-so-tasty or partially used up wine.

By shell4life — On Nov 28, 2012

@kylee07drg – I think it is way better to use whole pieces as mulling spices for apple cider. The flavor is more intense, and you don't have to risk having dregs at the bottom of your cup.

The problem with the powdered spices is that they never seem to fully dissolve, even when mixed into the hot cider. It is a terrible sensation to take a sip of tea and feel a bitter, powdery substance rolling around on your tongue.

Maybe the actual spice mixes that are designed for mulling are better at fully dissolving. I've only used separate powdered spices made for cooking, so this could be the reason why they didn't work very well. However, I still say that using whole chunks is best.

By kylee07drg — On Nov 27, 2012

I am going to get some apple cider mulling spices. Is it better to use whole cinnamon sticks and cloves or to use the powder?

I know that if I were going to use whole pieces, I would put them in a cheesecloth. However, with the powder, I could just dissolve it in the beverage. Which gives a better flavor?

By Kristee — On Nov 27, 2012

I like to make my own mulling spice mix at home. The versions for sale in stores often have ingredients that I don't like, so I prefer to mix and match in my own kitchen.

I have no problem with cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. However, I dislike the flavor of star anise. It reminds me too much of licorice, which I hate.

I'm also a little wary of cardamom. I have had a tea that contained this spice once, and it was so powerful that it made my tongue go numb!

By orangey03 — On Nov 26, 2012

I have always wondered what mulled apple cider was. The word “mulled” just sounded so mysterious and dark, and it made me think of something murky.

Now I know that mulling is just heating and spicing a beverage. It doesn't sound so scary anymore!

By anon138602 — On Jan 01, 2011

Never heard of it before the other day, saw a bag of mulling spice in the store and got it. I'm going to mill it into powder and add to a batch of homemade castile soap! Should be great, both as fragrance and exfoliant. --kv5r

By OceanSwimmer — On Oct 23, 2010

@stormyknight: That sounds absolutely delicious! I think I will try it. Great article and discussions!

By StormyKnight — On Oct 23, 2010

@waterhopper: Yes, there are mulling spices for wine. Remember the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”? The angel asks the bartender for a glass of mulled wine “heavy on the cinnamon, easy on the cloves”.

Cloves can overpower the taste of the wine sometimes. Getting that perfect formula is trial and error but I have tried some that was near perfect.

If you want to spice a standard bottle of red wine, you need to first simmer a Tbsp. mulling spice in water for 20 minutes. This releases the flavor. I use a cheesecloth pouch as it is easier. Remove the spices from the water using a strainer. Discard the water and then add the spices to the wine. Heat until the wine is warm. Remove the spices from your wine and it’s ready to serve.

The spices I use for it are: allspice, cloves, cassia buds, cassia cinnamon bark, cardamom, and mace.

By WaterHopper — On Oct 23, 2010

Isn’t there some kind of wine mulling spices? If so, does anyone know how to do it?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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